Historically, there haven’t been a lot of linebackers under six feet tall who have gone in the first round of the draft, let alone in the top 10. But history is an evolving story, and that story is changing as the profile of linebackers, specifically inside linebackers, is rapidly changing to adapt to the needs of defending the offensive trends of the day.
And so in comes Devin Bush, the 5’11” inside linebacker, weighing in at around 230ish pounds, give or take, for whom the Pittsburgh Steelers gave up first-, second-, and third-round picks over the 2019 and 2020 NFL Drafts to move up and secure him with the 10th-overall pick.
Others might raise some concerns about whether or not he can hold up at that size. Bush, whose father was a first-round pick as a safety in the early 1990s, has no worried about his size as he enters the professional realm. He has looked the part so far in the spring—but that’s without pads.
“I’m a grown man as much as anyone else in this locker room\”, he told reporters earlier this month when one of them had the audacity to ask him about whether or not his size might be a hindrance to him. “I’m here to play football. Nothing changes”.
The Steelers—along with many other teams, of course—coveted Bush because of his superior athletic ability, a quality that the team believed it was sorely lacking at the position last season, or really, since they lost Ryan Shazier due to injury in December of 2017.
They first dabbled in the athletic inside linebacker with Sean Spence in 2012, a third-round pick who suffered a severe knee injury in his rookie training camp. He would miss his first two seasons before finally getting on the field, and that injury would prevent him from ever reaching his full potential.
Terence Garvin was a find a year later, a college free agent who was in fact an invitee to rookie minicamp. After Larry Foote got injured in the season opener and Vince Williams emerged in his place as a rookie starter, Garvin was used on occasion in passing situations.
Then there was Shazier, of course, the 15th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, who would take time, but would ultimately develop into exactly the player that they were hoping, an explosive, dynamic playmaker who was capable of contributing in every phase of the defense at a high level. He would make the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017. Now they are hoping Bush can take an accelerated path there.
“I’m low to the ground. Very quick. Explosive off the first step”, he told reporters about his playing style relative to his height. “I can generate a lot of power with my legs and my arms. Being able to use my athleticism in the middle to have that quick burst — that strength — to withstand the bigger guys, I think that’s the biggest advantage when I rush inside”.
There is no reason to believe that Bush will struggle to put a thumping on offensive players once the pads come on. After all, it’s already all over his college tape. But it won’t be until Latrobe in late July before we start to see it for ourselves.